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Amy Kaufman and Angela McAllister – In the digital environment of the COVID-era, cyber-security skills are essential

Researchers at HEQCO spend a lot of time thinking about the types of skills Canadians need and that postsecondary education should teach. We know that skills like literacy, numeracy, communication and critical thinking are necessary for success in work and life, and we have focused much of our work on understanding not only how to teach and assess these skills but also transfer them from the education world to the workforce. As October is cyber security awareness month, we’re turning our attention to cyber-security skills, which have become increasingly important as we all navigate the digital and remote work and learning environments of the COVID era.    

The ability to work and learn online safely is an important life skill. Knowing how to recognize phishing scams and being able to stay safe on social media are important both personally and professionally. As the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed more of us into full-time remote work or learning, faculty and students are dealing with “zoombombers” and newly remote office workers are learning how to safely share data and collaborate via the cloud or a virtual private network (VPN). The ability to stay engaged and productive while maintaining online privacy and security has become essential. The Canadian Centre for Cyber Security (The Cyber Centre) encourages the development of cyber-security skills with resources aimed at educating and supporting the public, students and educators about cyber-security training and careers.

The Cyber Centre is a leader in promoting cyber-security skill development and is focused on developing Canada as a global source of intellectual capacity and talent in this area. Through collaboration with academic institutions, all levels of government and industry, The Cyber Centre’s Academic Outreach and Engagement (AO&E) team encourages postsecondary students to pursue and build careers in cyber security, computer sciences and information technology, and to put their skills and experience to work in Canada. They provide advice and guidance to academic institutions and offer a Cyber Security Curriculum Review service to support educators in integrating cyber-security skills into their courses. The AO&E team also provides information and support for faculty and students through a series of guides and training resources, all of which are free.

  • The Workforce Development and Curriculum Guide helps students understand the various professions available in the cyber-security field and provides support to high school guidance counsellors and postsecondary career counsellors in order to help them prepare students for technical and non-technical cyber-security roles. Institutions interested in developing cyber-security programs or incorporating cyber-security content into existing programs can refer to the guide for ideas and inspiration. The guide also includes a reference list of relevant college and university programs offered at publicly funded postsecondary institutions across Canada. 
  • The Cyber Security for Educators Course, offered through the Cyber Centre’s Learning Hub, is aimed at non-IT educators. It covers the basics of cyber security, describes relevant career paths, reviews the postsecondary options available to students, and provides free resources for teachers to embed cyber-security skills training into their curriculum. The course educates and supports high school teachers so they can help their students make informed decisions about postsecondary programs related to cyber security and the associated career streams. Teachers and professors at publicly funded Canadian educational institutions are eligible to take courses through the Learning Hub.
  • The Cyber Security Career Guide is tailored to students and provides information about cyber security and its impact on everyday life, as well as information about the benefits of pursuing a career in the field.

Whether we are digital natives or digital newcomers, the combination of cyber-security skills, digital literacy and critical thinking is absolutely essential for success in the current labour market. Even if we return to a pre-COVID model of work and learning, postsecondary students and graduates will need to be able to exercise these skills in their day-to-day lives. The future is digital and — quite possibly — remote; cyber-security proficiency should be included in the list of essential employability skills that inform program and curriculum development.

Amy Kaufman is Director of Research, Policy and System Improvement at HEQCO; Angela McAllister is Supervisor of the Academic Outreach and Engagement team at the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security.

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